Rapid odor processing in the honeybee antennal lobe network

Front Comput Neurosci. 2009 Jan 15;2:9. doi: 10.3389/neuro.10.009.2008. eCollection 2008.

Abstract

In their natural environment, many insects need to identify and evaluate behaviorally relevant odorants on a rich and dynamic olfactory background. Behavioral studies have demonstrated that bees recognize learned odors within <200 ms, indicating a rapid processing of olfactory input in the sensory pathway. We studied the role of the honeybee antennal lobe network in constructing a fast and reliable code of odor identity using in vivo intracellular recordings of individual projection neurons (PNs) and local interneurons (LNs). We found a complementary ensemble code where odor identity is encoded in the spatio-temporal pattern of response latencies as well as in the pattern of activated and inactivated PN firing. This coding scheme rapidly reaches a stable representation within 50-150 ms after stimulus onset. Testing an odor mixture versus its individual compounds revealed different representations in the two morphologically distinct types of lateral- and median PNs (l- and m-PNs). Individual m-PNs mixture responses were dominated by the most effective compound (elemental representation) whereas l-PNs showed suppressed responses to the mixture but not to its individual compounds (synthetic representation). The onset of inhibition in the membrane potential of l-PNs coincided with the responses of putative inhibitory interneurons that responded significantly faster than PNs. Taken together, our results suggest that processing within the LN network of the AL is an essential component of constructing the antennal lobe population code.

Keywords: Apis mellifera; antennal lobe; latency code; local interneurons; odor mixture; olfaction; projection neurons; temporal coding.